Jacksonville gets closer in its quest for Navy ship tourist attraction
By MIKE CLARK | The Florida Times-Union | Published: January 16, 2020
JACKSONVILE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Placing a Navy ship in downtown Jacksonville makes so much sense that it is frustrating that nothing has happened.
Despite a 10-year effort from dedicated Jacksonville residents, the former Shipyards is not graced with a Navy tourist attraction.
The USS Charles Adams, a former destroyer, was set to be delivered from Philadelphia when roadblocks from the U.S. Navy suddenly appeared.
Attorney Daniel Bean told the Downtown Investment Authority he wasn't able to get a straight answer from the Navy for the continued delays. Finally, thanks to help from U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, Bean learned that the Navy had been burned by other similar projects.
Cities promised to take former Navy ships, and when projects ran into trouble, cities asked the federal government for help. Basically, Jacksonville was victimized.
So the local nonprofit put out a call on social media. Does anyone have a former Navy ship they would like to transfer to Jacksonville?
Within an hour, they received a call from Lake Charles, La. A nonprofit was interested in moving the USS Orleck. A developer was interested in that site.
As Bean summarized it, "They had a ship without a pier, and we had a pier without a ship."
So the plan is to tow the Orleck to a drydock in Port Arthur, Texas. If it is in decent shape and the repair cost is not too high, the Orleck can be moved to Jacksonville in short order.
The Orleck also is a destroyer like the Adams, built after World War II and used in the Vietnam War.
Because the Orleck was being used for tourists, it would not require the same interior renovations that the Adams would have needed. So the Orleck could be opened to the public at once while the Adams would have needed about six months for interior repairs.
City Council approval still would be needed but similar financial arrangements would be used as with the Adams. Bottom line: The city and local taxpayers would be held harmless if the Orleck doesn't work out.
A $300,000 amount would be held in escrow if the project failed and ship had to be towed away. The DIA may require a new towing estimate and an increase of the escrow to 110% of that amount.
Even in that event, however, the ship has significant salvage value from the steel alone. The ship was appraised at $2 million.
One complication is that if the Shipyards were developed and the ship conflicts with the plans, the Orleck would have to be moved or towed away.
Bean suggests a park be developed near the ship, named Veterans Park, which could include the sailor statute from the Southbank and the memorial wall from the nearby stadium area.
"Obviously we don't want to stand in the way of any development in the Shipyards," Bean said. "We want to provide another attraction for Downtown, which is why we started this journey a decade ago."